SAO SEBASTIAO DO UATUMA, Brazil–Deep in the pristine Amazon jungle, Brazil’s newest skyscraper has a mission unlike any other: to save the world. The white and orange metal frame called Amazon Tall Tower Observatory, or ATTO, is a bold new tool in the push to understand climate change and the vital role of rainforests. At 325 meters, the ATTO is a meter higher than the Eiffel Tower and a good bit taller than London’s loftiest building, the Shard. But instead of the typical city din of honking horns and engines, the loudest noise around the skinny structure is the chatter of cicadas and tropical birds. Built in the Uatuma nature reserve, 350 kilometers from the city of Manaus and reachable only after hours of rough roads and a boat ride, the ATTO is seriously remote — and for the climate scientists that’s the point. “Being far from towns and man’s influence ensures we can collect relatively pure data,” said Meinrat Andrae, director of the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry, which is partnering with Brazilian research agency Inpa on the German-Brazilian funded project. The Amazon is seen as a big piece of the global warming puzzle, since trees are a key weapon in safely capturing destructive carbon gasses. And at 3,000 kilometers wide, the Amazon is the greatest of all rainforests, known to many as the lungs of the world. “Thanks to this tower we’ll be able to better understand the role of the Amazon, its effect on the local climate and also on the global climate,” said Antonio Ocimar Manzi, one of the Brazilian scientists. Rising far above even the mightiest Amazonian trees, the tower is good place to swap the suffocating jungle heat for fresh air, as long as you don’t mind heights. Wearing a safety harness is compulsory as journalists are led 150 meters up. The observatory is the tallest of its kind, beating a similar structure known as ZOTTO in Russia’s Siberia region. And ATTO is in a geographical area that has come to symbolize the whole world’s struggle. Greenhouse gas emissions have rocketed since the second half of the 20th century, dangerously warming the globe, according to most scientists. Healthy forests are one of the best ways to absorb the gasses. But deforestation for lumber or farming, a major issue in the Amazon, is a major cause of the gasses, since the stored up CO2 is released from the dead tree into the atmosphere. A worst case scenario predicted by some models foresees a vicious circle where global warming and drought kill so much of the Amazon that drought increases and the remains of the jungle became unsustainable, leading to even worse global warming. “The Amazon region is of global significance: it produces half of the word’s oxygen, impacts the water cycle through evaporation and stabilizes the climate,” the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry said. The tower, which cost about US$7.4 million and consists of 15,000 pieces, was inaugurated last week, but won’t collect data until later in the year. The goal is to have ATTO, which links up with two smaller towers of 50 and 80 meters, running for 20 to 30 years to allow a longterm study of the effects of carbon gasses. Its great height will be a big improvement on previous methods. “The 325-meter height allows the monitoring of an unprecedented atmospheric area of nearly 1,000 square kilometers,” the Brazilian government says.
“This will fill holes in the monitoring and collection of data done by satellites and other instruments.”